Gustavus Adolphus College Professor of History and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies Greg Kaster penned a letter to the editor that was published by The New York Times on July 3. Kaster’s letter was in response to an article by Robert Hicks titled “Why the Civil War Still Matters.”
Kaster’s letter to the editor:
Robert Hicks is certainly right that the war “sealed us as a nation.” Not for nothing did Abraham Lincoln avoid the word “Union” in his Gettysburg Address while using “nation” five times. The Civil War, though, matters for another profound reason as well, inseparable from, yet too easily obscured by, emphasis on the first.
As Lincoln himself in effect announced in his Emancipation Proclamation and magnificent address, the war amounted to what historians have called a Second American Revolution, one that sealed not just American nationhood but also the kind of country the United States would be.
By destroying the institution of chattel slavery that the founders had preserved and strengthened by writing it into the Constitution, the Civil War (and the 13th Amendment) determined that the United States would endure as a free-labor Republic rather than a slaveholding one, and that the country’s “new birth of freedom” would encompass, however imperfectly still, black and white Americans alike.
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